New Book | Messerschmidt’s Character Heads

Posted in books by Editor on October 2, 2017

Now available from Routledge:

Michael Yonan, Messerschmidt’s Character Heads: Maddening Sculpture and the Writing of Art History (New York: Routledge, 2018), 194 pages, ISBN: 978 113821 3432 (hardcover), $150 / ISBN: 978  131544  8404 (ebook), $55.

This book examines a famous series of sculptures by the German artist Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736–1783) known as his ‘Character Heads’. These are busts of human heads, highly unconventional for their time, representing strange, often inexplicable facial expressions. Scholars have struggled to explain these works of art. Some have said that Messerschmidt was insane, while others suggested that he tried to illustrate some sort of intellectual system. Michael Yonan argues that these sculptures are simultaneously explorations of art’s power and also critiques of the aesthetic limits that would be placed on that power.

Michael Yonan is associate professor of art history at the University of Missouri–Columbia. He is a specialist in eighteenth-century European art and material culture.


List of Figures


I  Writing the Artist’s Mind
Introduction to Part I
1  Nicolai’s Dreamer
2  Kris’s Psychotic

II  Writing the Artist’s Context
Introduction to Part II
3  Mesmer’s Acolyte
4  Lichtenberg’s Ally

III  Writing the Artist’s Project
Introduction to Part III
5  The Game of Making
6  The Envy of the Gods








4 Responses

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  1. yonanm said, on October 2, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    “The color of a late 1960s refrigerator” is what I told them. 🙂

  2. Editor said, on October 2, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    Perfect, Michael! It is a particularly fine cover—and appropriately striking (hard not to see it actually). Hearty congratulations! -Craig

  3. matthewchunter said, on October 3, 2017 at 7:07 am

    Exciting! Congratulations!

  4. Kathryn Desplanque (@KathrynDesp) said, on October 6, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    So so so excited to read this book!

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